Daily Archives: November 16, 2011

Russian super speed camera that can issue thousands of tickets per hour coming to US roads


No escape: The toaster-sized camera, developed in Russia, is here tracking six vehicles at the same time

Welcome to the (terrifying) future: Russian super speed camera can issue thousands of tickets per hour

Toaster-sized camera does not need a police officer to operate it so is effectively invisible

Daily Mail | Nov 16, 2011

A new cutting edge speed gun that can track 32 vehicles at the same time could be coming to U.S. roads.

The toaster-sized camera, developed in Russia, can handle heavy traffic and issue thousands of tickets an hour.

Ontario-based Peak Gain Systems will offer the photo radar device to states next year.

The Simicon Cordon is billed as being far more advanced than other photo radar guns currently in use.

Steven Fiter, CEO of Peak Gain Systems, said: ‘This takes photos on a continuous basis, so it can handle whatever traffic comes by and issue hundreds or even thousands of tickets [per hour].’

The all-in-one camera and radar gun system detects violators automatically. There is no need for a police officer to be present.

When the radar gun detects a speeder, the camera snaps a photo of the car, then scans and identifies the license plate.

The software processes the ‘violation’ in real-time for a police officer – or a deputized office worker – working in a control booth back at the station.

Infractions are triggered automatically – most cars are flagged as being in a ‘buffer’ zone and are not ticketed. But, anyone going over the limit could be issued a ticket.

‘Speeders can be fined according to the laws of that jurisdiction,’ Mr Fiter said.

‘Cordon works automatically without human will,’ said Ilya Barsky from Simicon. ‘The main feature is to provide an image of the car and the speed of the car at very high accuracy. There is no other photo-capture system that measures plus or minus one MPH.’

The Cordon uses algorithms to verify the speed, position, and direction of the driver. The license plate recognition technology, similar to face recognition, scans and captures each digit and letter.

Peak Gain Systems will distribute the Cordon as early as the first quarter of 2012, although no pilot programs have been announced.

Mr Fiter said one third of states in the US allow photo detection systems, about a third have banned them, and another third have not yet ruled on their legality.

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Child rape coverup: Penn State’s Sandusky Paid $500,000 by Boy’s Charity; “pimped out kids” to rich donors


Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky after his Nov. 5 arrest. Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s Office/Reuters

huntingtonnews.net | Nov 12, 2011

by Tony Rutherford

STATE COLLEGE, PA (HNN) – A former Penn State defensive coach accused of child rape  by multiple victims received nearly $500,000 from the at-risk  boys charity that he founded, according to CBS TV 21 reports. The station obtained copies of income tax returns from Second Mile which beginning in 2001 (the earliest year available) paid Jerry Sandusky approximately $50,000 annually as a “consultant.”

Sandusky founded the Second Mile Foundation in 1977. Tax records were not available prior to 2001, according to the Channel 21 investigation.

The initial allegation of sexual abuse of a child came in 1998. Sandusky reportedly admitted to “hugging” a  ten year old boy while showering. The board of  waited ten years before taking its first punitive action  —  barring him from overnight camping trips. He “retired” in 2010

Now, radio reporter has told the New England Sports Network (NESN) that Second Mile  and Sandusky are targets of an investigation that “pimping” of boys were occurring. Madden first broke a story in April 2011 which revealed the alleged Sandusky child rape cover-up.

On WEEI’s morning show, Nov. 10, Madden also said, “The other thing I think that may eventually become uncovered, is that I think they’ll find out that Jerry Sandusky was told that he had to retire in exchange for a cover-up,” Madden said. “If you look at the timeline, that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

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“My opinion is when Sandusky quit, everybody knew — not just at Penn State,” Madden added. “I think it was a very poorly kept secret about college football in general, and that is why he never coached in college football again and retired at the relatively young age of 55. [That’s] young for a coach, certainly.”

Madden denied that he started the “rumor,” stating, “The Second Mile was the perfect cover [for him to be with young kids],” radio host Madden said, adding, “ I think the people who knew were the people who knew.”

Speculation has spread about potential civil suit against the university and its officials. Since the last allegation intertwining Penn State and Sandusky came at his retirement, which was over five years ago, it’s likely all criminal charges except those lodged against Sandusky, would fall beyond the statute of limitations.

Here’s a timeline composed by Sports-ology of the scandal with a link to obtain the full timeline at the Ology website:

Jan. 26, 1944: Gerald Arthur Sandusky born in Washington, PA.

1963-1965: Sandusky plays defensive end for Penn State. Joe Paterno​ is an assistant coach during these years.

1966: Serves as a graduate assistant on Penn State’s football staff in Paterno’s first year as head coach.

1967: Serves as an assistant coach at Juniata College, a Division III school in Huntingdon, PA.

1968: Sandusky becomes an assistant coach at Boston University.

1969: Rejoins Penn State as the defensive line coach. The Nittany Lions post their second consecutive perfect season and defeat Missouri in the Orange Bowl.

1970: Becomes linebackers coach and begins to build PSU’s reputation as “Linebacker U.” In 1973 Penn State would record their third perfect season under Joe Paterno, but the Nittany Lions have yet to win a National Championship.

1977: Sandusky is promoted to defensive coordinator. This is also the year he founds The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk children in State College, Penn. The charity will eventually serve youths across the state.

Jan. 1983: The AP selects Penn State as the 1982 national champion.

Jan. 1987: The AP selects Penn State as the 1986 national champion, the Nittany Lions’ second championship with Paterno as coach and Sandusky as defensive coordinator.

1994: Sandusky meets Victim 7 through The Second Mile. Sandusky allegedly touched Victim 7 in a manner that made the boy uncomfortable, and both Sandusky and Sandusky’s wife attempted to contact Victim 7 in the weeks leading up to his grand jury appearance.

1994-95: Sandusky meets Victim 6 through The Second Mile.

Jan. 1, 1995: Penn State finishes their sixth perfect season under Joe Paterno by beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

1995-96: Sandusky meets Victim 5 through The Second Mile. Victim 5 had limited contact with Sandusky after he spurned the coach’s advances.

1996-97: Sandusky singles out Victim 4, who is also a participant in The Second Mile. Victim 4 is subject to repeated episodes of abuse over a period of several years.

Jan. 1998: Victim 4 travels as a member of Sandusky’s party to the Outback Bowl. He shares accommodations with Sandusky and frequently spends the night with Sandusky outside of the bowl game.

1998: Victim 6 showers with Sandusky. The victim’s mother becomes suspicious and calls University Police, who open an investigation.

Jerry Sandusky Rumored Pimping Out Young Boys to Rich Donors

Child Rape Cover-Up at Penn State Marks “Greatest Fall From Grace in History of U.S. Sports”

Municipal bankruptcy in Alabama: Will other local governments follow suit?

Municipal bankruptcy in Jefferson County, Ala., was filed this week and is the largest in US history. Other cash-strapped local governments are watching the case closely.

CSM | Nov 11, 2011

By Patrik Jonsson

Cash-strapped local governments across the US are closely watching the $4 billion, Chapter 9 bankruptcy filed this week by Jefferson County, Ala. – the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.

Beyond the dozens of US municipalities that have already defaulted on bond payments this year, hundreds of others are being crushed by gold-plated union contracts and municipal-bond refinancing deals that blew up in the real estate crash of 2008. It’s a situation that some fear could lead to a wave of destabilizing defaults on usually rock-solid muni bonds.

The Jefferson County bankruptcy case, along with three other major municipal bankruptcies filed this year, may offer new avenues for cities and counties to renegotiate their debts. But as it hits the courts, the Alabama case is also likely to be scattered with cautionary tales and caveats that may give municipal fiduciaries pause before ducking into the courthouse to seek protection from creditors.

Either way, “there are going to be other municipalities in financial distress looking at what happens in this case,” says Melissa Woodley, a finance professor at Samford University in Birmingham – the seat of Jefferson County.

Indeed, Jefferson County became the fourth municipal entity to declare bankruptcy this year – with Harrisburg, Pa.; Central Falls, R.I.; and Boise County, Idaho, coming before. However, such filings remain rare. Fewer than 500 have taken place since 1937 and only 40 since 1981, according to Bloomberg. The previous record was set in 1994 when Orange County, Calif., asked the courts to reorganize $1.7 billion in debt.

“This [Jefferson County case] was not the first casualty in municipal bankruptcies, and it very likely won’t be anywhere close to the last,” writes Jon Ogg for 24/7 Wall St., an online investment newsletter.

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Jefferson County Bankruptcy a Blow to Long-Suffering Birmingham

Analysts like Meredith Whitney, who predicted the 2008 Wall Street crash, have warned for years about a looming municipal-bond crash – where a spike in local governments defaulting on bond payments could trigger a mass exodus of investors out of the usually safe municipal bond market. That, in turn, could force local governments to either raise taxes or dramatically reduce budgetary outlays and services.

“I think next to housing, this is the single most important issue in the United States and certainly the largest threat to the US economy,” Ms. Whitney told “60 Minutes” last year.

Faced with massive budget deficits and little hope of another Washington bailout, revenue-starved cities like Miami and Detroit have discussed bankruptcy. They’ve hinted that where there’s a lack of political will to either raise taxes or cut services in order to pay off debts, a judge might have to do that work.

John Young Jr., the court-appointed receiver in the Jefferson County bond debacle, told Reuters that politics was a factor in the 4-to-1 decision by the Jefferson County commissioners to declare bankruptcy. “Politicians don’t want to be attached to [utility] rate increases and tax increases, and both were going to be necessary,” he said.

Indeed, beleaguered municipalities struggling with political stalemates over revenue and debt pressures could look to bankruptcy courts as a process “that may allow [those issues] to be worked out” in a more neutral, nonpartisan way, says Ms. Woodley at Samford University.

Still, few expect a sudden rush of municipal bankruptcies. For one thing, such bankruptcies, including the one in Jefferson County, are usually signaled years in advance, giving investors time to adjust. Right now, there aren’t an overwhelming number of municipalities sending such signals.

Moreover, Jefferson County remains a unique case. While most municipal debt problems today stem from generous pension packages negotiated during better economic times, Jefferson County managed to overpay for a new sewer system and years later refinance its overbearing debt using untested and risky Wall Street derivatives and interest-rate swaps.

Also, malfeasance was rife: Twenty-two officials have been found guilty of corruption in setting up the sewer bond deal, and JPMorgan Chase, the primary note-holder, has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties to the Securities and Exchange Commission for its role in the debacle.

And then there are the costs of bankruptcy. Jefferson County has hired two well-known Hollywood bankruptcy attorneys charging about $1,700 an hour combined – a rate at which the lawyers will have earned the average per capita annual income in Jefferson County in just over three days.

“This can drag on for years, meaning millions of dollars in just attorney’s fees,” says Andreas Rauterkus, a finance professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Huge bizarre structures in Gobi desert discovered on Google Earth


This giant grid is estimated at nearly 30km long. Picture: Google Maps

Vast, unidentified, structures have been spotted by satellites in the barren Gobi desert, raising questions about what China might be building in a region it uses for its military, space and nuclear programmes.

China: Google Earth spots huge, unidentified structures in Gobi desert

Telegraph | Nov 14, 2011

By Malcolm Moore, Shanghai and Thomas Harding

In two images, available on Google Earth, reflective rectangles up to a mile long can be seen, a tangle of bright white intersecting lines that are clearly visible from space.

Other pictures show enormous concentric circles radiating on the ground, with three jets parked at their centre.

In one picture from 2007, a mass of orange blocks have been carefully arranged in a circle. In a more recent image, however, the blocks, each one the size of a shipping container, appear to have been scattered as far as three miles from the original site.

Another image shows an array of metallic squares littered with what appears to be the debris of exploded vehicles while another shows an intricate grid that is some 18 miles long.

All of the sites are on the borders of Gansu province and Xinjiang, some less than 100 miles from Jiuquan, the headquarters of China’s space programme and the location of its launch pads.

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The two reflective rectangles lie 70 miles from the nearest main road and there is no sign of any surrounding activity. However, Ding Xin military airbase, where China carries out its secret aircraft testing programme, is relatively nearby, at a distance of some 400 miles.


Conspiracy theorists claim the lines are grids representing American cities. Picture: Google Maps

400 miles in the other direction is Lop Nur, the salt lakes where China tested 45 nuclear bombs between 1967 and 1995.

The purpose of the structures is unknown, but some experts suggested that they might be optical test ranges for Chinese missiles, to simulate the street grids of cities.

Tim Ripley, a defence expert from Jane’s Defence Weekly, compared the structures to similar grids in Area 51, the secret United States military test base in Nevada. “The picture of the circle looks very like a missile test range, with target and instrumentation set out to record weapon effects. The Americans have lots of these in Nevada – Area 51!” he said.

Conspiracy theorists believe that Area 51 is home to the remains of an alien spacecraft found at Roswell, and there was no shortage on Monday of similar hypotheses about the Chinese sites.

“It looks like our own Area 51,” said one commenter on Baidu, a Chinese website. “Can it be an alien base,” asked another. “It looks like solar energy facilities, with a walkway along the side,” said a third.

Minority Report style facial recognition rolling out in US cities


Smart signs using facial recognition software are scheduled for introduction in three cities this month. Immersive Labs

Immersive Labs in Manhattan has developed software for digital billboards that gauges the characteristics of passers-by in order to display ads likely to attract them.

Face Recognition Makes the Leap From Sci-Fi

NY Times | Nov 12, 2011

By NATASHA SINGER

FACIAL recognition technology is a staple of sci-fi thrillers like “Minority Report.”

But of bars in Chicago?

SceneTap, a new app for smart phones, uses cameras with facial detection software to scout bar scenes. Without identifying specific bar patrons, it posts information like the average age of a crowd and the ratio of men to women, helping bar-hoppers decide where to go. More than 50 bars in Chicago participate.

As SceneTap suggests, techniques like facial detection, which perceives human faces but does not identify specific individuals, and facial recognition, which does identify individuals, are poised to become the next big thing for personalized marketing and smart phones. That is great news for companies that want to tailor services to customers, and not so great news for people who cherish their privacy. The spread of such technology — essentially, the democratization of surveillance — may herald the end of anonymity.

And this technology is spreading. Immersive Labs, a company in Manhattan, has developed software for digital billboards using cameras to gauge the age range, sex and attention level of a passer-by. The smart signs, scheduled to roll out this month in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, deliver ads based on consumers’ demographics. In other words, the system is smart enough to display, say, a Gillette ad to a male passer-by rather than an ad for Tampax.

Those endeavors pale next to the photo-tagging suggestion tool introduced by Facebook this year. When a person uploads photos to the site, the “Tag Suggestions” feature uses facial recognition to identify that user’s friends in those photos and automatically suggests name tags for them. It’s a neat trick that frees people from the cumbersome task of repeatedly typing the same friends’ names into their photo albums.

“Millions of people are using it to add hundreds of millions of tags,” says Simon Axten, a Facebook spokesman. Other well-known programs like Picasa, the photo editing software from Google, and third-party apps like PhotoTagger, from face.com, work similarly.

But facial recognition is proliferating so quickly that some regulators in the United States and Europe are playing catch-up. On the one hand, they say, the technology has great business potential. On the other, because facial recognition works by analyzing and storing people’s unique facial measurements, it also entails serious privacy risks.

Using off-the-shelf facial recognition software, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were recently able to identify about a third of college students who had volunteered to be photographed for a study — just by comparing photos of those anonymous students to images publicly available on Facebook. By using other public information, the researchers also identified the interests and predicted partial Social Security numbers of some students.

“It’s a future where anonymity can no longer be taken for granted — even when we are in a public space surrounded by strangers,” says Alessandro Acquisti, an associate professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon who directed the studies. If his team could so easily “infer sensitive personal information,” he says, marketers could someday use more invasive techniques to identify random people on the street along with, say, their credit scores.

Today, facial detection software, which can perceive human faces but not identify specific people, seems benign.

Some video chat sites are using software from face.com, an Israeli company, to make sure that participants are displaying their faces, not other body parts, says Gil Hirsch, the chief executive of face.com. The software also has retail uses, like virtually trying out eyeglasses at eyebuydirect.com, and entertainment applications, like moustachify.me, a site that adds a handle bar mustache to a face in a photo.

But privacy advocates worry about more intrusive situations.

Now, for example, advertising billboards that use facial detection might detect a young adult male and show him an ad for, say, Axe deodorant. Companies that make such software, like Immersive Labs, say their systems store no images or data about passers-by nor do they analyze their emotions.

But what if the next generation of mall billboards could analyze skin quality and then publicly display an ad for acne cream, or detect sadness and serve up an ad for antidepressants?

“You might think it’s cool, or you might think it’s creepy, depending on the context,” says Maneesha Mithal, the associate director of the division of privacy and identity protection for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission. Whatever consumers think, she says, they should be able to choose whether to be subject to such marketing practices. (The F.T.C. is planning a workshop next month on facial recognition.)

ON Facebook, people who find the photo-tagging suggestion program creepy may turn off the system that proposes their names to friends who are uploading photos. If people opt out, Facebook deletes their facial comparison data, according to the site. Users may also preapprove or reject being listed by name in a friend’s photo before it is posted on their profiles.

Those options may suffice for many.

But in Germany, where German and European privacy regulations require private companies to obtain explicit permission from a person before they store information about that individual, merely being able to opt out does not go far enough, says Johannes Caspar, the commissioner of the Hamburg Data Protection Authority. (Although the United States has federal data protection laws pertaining to specific industries like credit and video rental, no general law requires that all companies obtain explicit consent before storing personal data about an individual.)

Mr. Caspar says many users do not understand that Facebook’s tag suggestion feature involves storing people’s biometric data to re-identify them in later photos. Last summer, he asked Facebook to give current users in Germany the power to delete their biometric data and to give new users in Germany the power to refuse to have their biometric data collected in the first place. In the long term, he says, such popular uses of facial recognition could moot people’s right to remain anonymous.

Mr. Caspar said last week that he was disappointed with the negotiations with Facebook and that his office was now preparing to take legal action over the company’s biometric database.

Facebook told a German broadcaster that its tag suggestion feature complied with European data protection laws.

“There are many risks,” Mr. Caspar says. “People should be able to choose if they want to accept these risks, or not accept them.” He offered a suggestion for Americans, “Users in the United States have good reason to raise their voices to get the same right.”

Doctor turned grisly serial killer in WWII Paris


Marcel Petiot, pictured during his trial in Paris in March 1946. He was convicted of killing 27 victims, sentenced to death and beheaded in a guillotine. AFP/Getty Images

Respected physician ‘savagely dismembered’ victims, including many desperate Jews lured by false promises of escape

MSNBC | Nov 9, 2011

Nazi-occupied Paris was a terrible place to be in the waning days of World War II, with Jews, Resistance fighters and ordinary citizens all hoping to escape.

Disappearances became so common they often weren’t followed up.

And one man used the lawlessness for his own terrible purposes, killing perhaps as many as 150 people and dismembering and burning their bodies.

It wasn’t until thick black smoke seeped into buildings in a fashionable part of the city that firefighters and police found body parts scattered around an elegant townhouse — setting off a manhunt that led them, eventually, to Marcel Petiot.

The crime was very much of its time, said David King, who chronicled the hunt for Petiot in the new book, “Death in the City of Light.”

“Paris was not a good place to be. A lot of people were trying to leave Paris, a lot of people just disappearing. He had it plotted out, a very devious plan,” said King, in a telephone interview.

“Respect for the law was tarnished under the Nazis. Even if you suspected something, a lot of people were very, very reluctant to go forward, especially if they were Jewish.”

Petiot, as it turned out, was a respected physician who turned serial killer by night, preying largely on Jews desperate to leave Paris by luring them in with promises of escape. He was accused of murdering “only” 27, but authorities suspected his real toll was far higher.

King, a former history professor, first stumbled across reference to the killings while browsing in a bookstore and picking up a World War II memoir by a spy. At first, he couldn’t believe what he read.

But the grisly details stuck with him, and after he confirmed the story was true, he finished his other projects and came back to it.

“Here’s a guy — Marcel Petiot, who was accused of all the murders. Obviously very intelligent, charismatic, has a respected position, is into collecting antiques, interested in the arts,” he said.

“And yet, you get to the other side, when he’s accused of some of the most disturbing things you can think of: savagely dismembering bodies.”

Through years of research, including perusal of Parisian police archives closed since the crimes took place, King pieced together the story of how Petiot claimed to be a member of the resistance and lured many of his victims in by promising them safe passage to South America in return for payment.
Story: ICE seized painting stolen by Nazis in WWII

Once in Petiot’s hands, the victims were told to write letters to their relatives, telling them that they were fine and would return once times had settled down. Then they were killed, most likely by lethal gas, and dismembered or burned.

“It’s a microcosm of the whole Nazi terror and Paris being a bad place to be. There’s got to be more than just exploiting peoples’ hopes and dreams and desperation, but that’s what he does,” King said.

Though Petiot eluded police on at least one occasion, after appearing amid the crowd that gathered after the initial grisly discovery and speaking with a patrolman before riding off on his bicycle, he was eventually captured, tried and – in May 1946 – executed by guillotine.

King, the author of several other books, said this one was particularly hard to immerse himself in due to the content, however horrifically fascinating the story.

It also had an impact on him personally.

“I’m generally a pretty outgoing person, but I’m probably a little bit more reluctant about things now,” he said.

“Dr. Petiot seemed like the nicest guy — charming, intelligent, friendly. You could just strike up a conversation with somebody like this … I found myself on my guard more.”

Russians in largest exodus from the country since the Bolshevik Revolution


Russians line up for visas outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times)

Some chafe at life under Vladimir Putin’s rule, but for many others, economic limitations are the prime motivator. Experts say the numbers have reached demographically dangerous levels.

Russians are leaving the country in droves

Los Angeles Times | Nov 14, 2011

By Sergei L. Loiko

Moscow — Over a bottle of vodka and a traditional Russian salad of pickles, sausage and potatoes tossed in mayonnaise, a group of friends raised their glasses and wished Igor Irtenyev and his family a happy journey to Israel.

Irtenyev, his wife and daughter insist they will just be away for six months, but the sadness in their eyes on this recent night said otherwise.

A successful Russian poet, Irtenyev says he can no longer breathe freely in his homeland, because “with each passing year, and even with each passing day, there is less and less oxygen around.”

“I just can’t bear the idea of watching [Vladimir] Putin on television every day for the next 12 years,” the 64-year-old said of the Russian leader who has presided over a relatively stable country, though one awash in corruption and increasing limits on personal freedoms. “I may not live that long. I want out now.”

Irtenyev and his family have joined a new wave of Russian emigration that some here have called the “Putin decade exodus.”

Roughly 1.25 million Russians have left the country in the last 10 years, Sergei Stepashin, head of the national Audit Chamber, told the radio station Echo of Moscow. The chamber tracks migration through tax revenues.

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He said the exodus is so large, it’s comparable in numbers to the outrush in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution.

“About as many left the country after 1917,” he said.

They don’t leave like their predecessors of the Soviet 1970s and ’80s, with no intention to return. They don’t sell their apartments, dachas and cars. They simply lock the door, go to the airport and quietly leave.

The reasons are varied. Some, like Irtenyev, chafe at life under Putin’s rule, which seems all but certain to continue with the prime minister’s expected return to the presidency next year. But for many others, economic strictures are the prime motivation. With inflation on the rise, and the country’s GDP stuck at an annual 3% growth rate the last three years — compared with 7% to 8% before the global economic crisis — Russians are feeling pinched.

Russian nuclear physicist Vladimir Alimov, who now works at the University of Toyama in Japan, said he couldn’t survive on the $450 monthly salary of a senior researcher at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Yes, I miss Russia, but as a scientist I couldn’t work there with the ancient equipment which had not been replaced or upgraded since the Soviet times,” Alimov, 60, said in a phone interview. “Here in Japan, I have fantastic work conditions. I can do the work I enjoy and be appreciated and valued for it, everything I couldn’t even dream of back in Russia.”

The wave of emigration, which has included large numbers of educated Russians, has grave implications for a country of 142 million with a death rate significantly higher than its birthrate. A study published this year by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development called Russia a waning power and predicted its population would shrink by 15 million by 2030.

Experts believe that 100,000 to 150,000 people now leave the country annually and warn that the exodus reached dangerous dimensions in the last three years.

“People are going abroad for better college education, for better medical help, for better career opportunities, believing they will come back someday, but very few actually do,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst with the Institute of Geography. “The intellectual potential of the nation is being washed away, as the most mobile, intelligent and active are leaving.”

Lev Gudkov, head of Levada, also sees a political dimension. “The worst thing is that people who could have played a key role in the modernization campaign proclaimed by the Kremlin are all leaving,” Gudkov said. “But it appears that the Kremlin couldn’t care less if the most talented, the most active Russians are emigrating, because their exodus lifts the social and political tension in the country and weakens the opposition.”

But Valery Fyodorov, the head of VTsIOM, says the current emigration has very little to do with politics.

“A majority of those who want to leave the country are already quite successful in Russia,” Fyodorov said. “They simply want to live even better and try something new.”

“However, I must admit that life in Russia has not been really improving in the last three years, and that of course applies pressure and encourages talk of leaving,” he said. “But that is much more connected with economic crisis problems and consequences rather than politics.”

About 20% of Russians are thinking about leaving the country and trying their luck abroad, according to various Russian polling agencies, from the independent Levada Center to the Kremlin-friendly VTsIOM. Among 18- to 35-year-olds, close to 40% of respondents say they’d like to leave.

One of the few to have returned is computer engineer Alexey Petrov, who came back in 2003 after four years in Argentina. He opened an Internet cafe in Buenos Aires, only to face economic crises there.

Recalling his emigration experience, Petrov, 38, cited the Russian adage “It is good where we are not” and pointed out that the whole world is afflicted with the same economic problems people in Russia are now fleeing.

“Most of the time I was away I was consumed with nostalgia, and it is one thing to be a tourist abroad and quite another to be an alien resident,” Petrov said. “Now I know that if you ignore politics and stay away from it, you can lead a normal existence in Russia and be happy with little things life offers to you every day.”

But politics can still intrude, with an atmosphere that can sometimes feel threatening. Take a recent day, when thousands of young people wearing the old imperial white, yellow and black flag and carrying extremist and ultranationalist posters marched the streets of Moscow screaming obscenities. Police stood aside.

Even though poet Irtenyev’s wife, Alla Bossart, knows she will miss her cozy dacha near Moscow, as a former columnist of Novaya Gazeta she is well aware that in the last 10 years, five of her colleagues, including crusading reporter Anna Politkovskaya, have been killed.

On the morning she left Moscow with her husband and daughter, Bossart had to return from the taxi to her already locked apartment to pick up some things she had forgotten. And then she had to go back again to switch off the light.

As she walked down the steps again, she muttered an old Russian saying under her breath: “It is a bad sign to return.”